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Yes, patients want to discuss pricing, payment options before treatment

More than a third surveyed also said they'd move to different providers that offer attractive payment programs.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

More than three-quarters of healthcare consumers say it's important or very important that they know their costs before treatment, and 53 percent want to discuss financing options before care. But the vast majority of healthcare providers are not satisfying these demands, according to the HealthFirst Financial Patient Survey, a survey conducted by ORC International and commissioned by patient financing company HealthFirst Financial.

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Only 18 percent of the 1,011 U.S. adults surveyed across the country said that any of their healthcare providers had spoken to them, at any time, about patient financing options in the past two years. Patients are especially interested in affordable payment programs, with 57 percent saying it's important or very important that their healthcare provider offer ways to extend payments over time with no interest charged. Yet, just 8 percent received zero- or low-interest financing from a healthcare provider.

"These findings highlight a huge gap in what patients want and what hospitals, medical groups and other healthcare providers are delivering," said KaLynn Gates, president and corporate counsel of HealthFirst Financial, in a statement. "Providers that care for the financial as well as clinical needs of their communities are much more likely to thrive in this era of rising out-of-pockets costs and growing competition for patients among traditional and non-traditional providers."

[Also: Despite providers posting prices, patients still not shopping around for services]

Disappointed patients are prepared to vote with their feet. A full 40 percent of millennials 18 to 36 years old said they'd be very likely or likely to switch providers if a competitor offered low- or zero- interest financing for medical bills. They aren't alone: Overall, 29 percent said they'd move to different providers that offer attractive payment programs.

People at all income brackets worry about covering the cost of care. A full 42 percent are very concerned or concerned about their ability to pay out-of-pocket medical bills in the next two years, according to the survey. That number jumps to 54 percent among those with incomes of less than $35,000 a year, and falls to 24 percent among those with incomes of $100,000 or more annually.

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As a result, consumers also want know what they will owe as early as possible: 77 percent said it's important or very important that providers give the cost before a procedure, while 63 percent said it was important or very important that providers publish pricing lists of common procedures.

And with consumer debt on the rise, people have even less room in their budget for medical bills. Anxiety over covering unexpected medical expenses rises with the amount: 53 percent of survey respondents voiced concern about the ability to pay a medical bill of less than $1,000; 35 percent worried about the ability to pay a bill of less than $500; and 16 percent are concerned about the ability to pay a bill of less than $250.

"We commissioned this independent survey to learn more about how consumers are coping with their medical expenses," said Gates.  "Without providing and communicating these viable financing options, they are likely to delay care or switch providers to find financial help. In either case, providers will be hurt by those choices, and they need to develop a strategy to meet these consumers' needs."

The August survey was conducted by ORC International among a sample of 1,011 adults comprising 504 men and 507 women 18 years old and older. The interviews were weighted by age, sex, geographic region, race and education to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the total U.S. adult population.

Twitter: @JELagasse
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